Tag Archives: winter

Walk in the Cold – Greenmarket at Union Square



With it being winter and all, this writer has been a lot more hesitant to go out and explore the street food of New York City. At times like these, it is much more likely you’ll find me hiding at home with a hot cup of coffee in hand, bingeing on Netflix. However, as I’ve learnt, you should never pass on going out on a sunny day, no matter how cold it is outside, and today was just that day.


I decided to go check out the Greenmarket at Union Square, which is supposed to be a large market with lots of farmers’ stalls selling their own products. I was looking forward to it, but I was a little disappointed to see a few stalls rather sparsely located across the Northwestern corner of the park. I was even more disappointed that there weren’t any stalls selling cooked food at the time I was there, which was around 1 in the afternoon. But I guess with it being winter, outdoor markets like these would be pared down. I did buy some apples and moved along quite disappointedly.





I thought I might walk down to Washington Square and check out if there was anything going on there. Unwittingly, I waded into NYU territory as I made my way from Union Square. I was of course jealous of the variety of shops and bars and restaurants that were in the area. One place that caught my eye was Gunz, which is sells “European fine food”. So I immediately walked in and they were selling Austrian coffee, which was a good strong brew and inexpensive. In fact, everything in that shop was quite inexpensive for what I assume was imported food from Europe. From Italy they stocked olive oils, pestos, pastas and antipasti, butter cookies from Denmark, shortbread from Britain and wafers from Poland and Belgium. I bought myself some Italian hazelnut cookies and some pasta.




After that I walked down University Place further, and I was feeling hungry because I didn’t find anything to eat at Union Square. I thought I might check out Space Market, which is a grocery store. What impressed me was the salad and hot food bar that they had. It was the kind where you’d just help yourself and they had your usual suspects: pasta, meatloaves and sushi but what got my attention was the “Chicken Gumbo” at the soup counter. Being a self-professed fan of anything closely related to New Orleans food, I went straight for the gumbo and walked a little ways down to Washington Square to try it.


What was weird was sitting on a park bench at below freezing. I was the only idiot in the park doing it. However, with the sunshine and hot soup it really wasn’t so bad. Washington Square Park was quiet, almost empty, with snow and ice covering the grounds. For people who do not like the taste and gooey texture of okra, gumbo is probably disgusting gunk, but I’m a fan. In fact, the gooier, the better. The strange thing about this gumbo was that it was very tomato-y, probably a Manhattan twist on the classic gumbo. It was a great thing to have on a cold day.




As a student of Columbia, I have been guilty of spending too much time in my Morningside bubble and not getting out enough to explore the rest of what this great city has to offer. Perhaps it is a case of the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side, but I always felt that students at NYU have a much better deal in terms of the neighborhood they’re in, with all the bars and restaurants and other shops around, not to mention two nice parks – Washington park and Union Square park.


What I did learn though, is that outdoor markets are going to be a lot less than spectacular during winter, naturally; that NYU has a much sweeter neighborhood and that it’s not a bad idea to venture out into the cold every now and then, especially when the sun is out.


Halal Guys



So winter has come, and hence it has been increasingly difficult to muster up the courage to brave New York’s bitter cold and try the street food out on offer. To be sure, there are still many vendors out there exposed to the elements trying to earn a living, and hats off to the brave souls who do that to provide New York with cheap and good food.

However, for someone who grew up in tropical Singapore, winter, while a novelty to me, is not exactly my favourite season, what with the biting cold and the multiple layers that I have to put on just to get out of the house. Getting food and eating it on the street has also been very difficult due to the glove dilemma, which necessitates the removal of gloves to facilitate easier manipulation of food and/or cutlery. Fortunately, some street food vendors have upgraded their facilities, with some of them having set up brick-and-mortar places to allow for some heating and seating while you enjoy their food.

I’m referring of course to the Halal Guys, which, according to their Wikipedia page, was set up as a humble food cart offering hot dogs. Eventually, its proprietor, Mohamed Abouelenein, decided that hot dogs were not satisfying enough as a meal and therefore decided to offer “chicken, gyro meat, rice and pita in 1992”. The Halal Guys, apparently, were responsible for a “decline in the popularity of hot dog vendors in New York City”. Talk about revolutionary.

Chicken over rice was the first thing I ordered from a food cart in New York and I kinda like it because it’s simple, unfussy and frankly quite satisfying for the price. I had never tried the Halal Guys though, and have always wanted to because it’s supposedly the original and the best. I had once stood in line for an hour and a half at freezing for what I was told was “the best kebab in Europe” in Berlin, but because I have grown lazy I thought I might just check out their brick-and-mortar joint, which is at 14th St and 2nd Avenue.

I got myself the chicken and rice combo, which was not too expensive. They come in two sizes, I believe, regular and large. Being really hungry (and a bit greedy too, I must admit), I went for the large, which, living up to its name, came in a really substantial portion. I can’t say much about it that distinguishes it from the generic chicken over rice you get at most food carts around town in terms of the style of the food. The difference, I believe, lies in the ingredients. The Halal Guys, at least the branch at 14th St, serves up a chicken that tastes fresher, and is perhaps of better quality than what you would normally get. The rice is also good, well spiced and properly seasoned. Just in case you don’t have enough carbs, they throw in a couple of slices of pita bread as well for good measure.

My favourite thing, of course, is white sauce, which I find to be quite a mystery. Is it mayo, is it sour cream, is it yoghurt, what is it?? (there is a good write-up here). And while I am not sophisticated enough to discern the fine differences between the white sauce at Halal Guys and generic white sauce, I am of the opinion that you should always ask for a little more white sauce. Firstly because the rice can get quite dry, and secondly, it tastes good!

My final verdict on Halal Guys? It’s good! It’s supposedly a New York institution and they serve good, fresh, hot food at inexpensive prices, so what’s not to love? Plus, with those portions, you get a really big meal for not a lot of money. My suggested drink pairing with chicken over rice? Orange soda. Always.

No-Work Pull-Apart Pork Belly

When I say that this little recipe is an absolute comfort in the winter but requires almost no work, I am not trying to trick you. If you have all the ingredients at hand, the preparation that goes into this totals about ten minutes at most. Warning: the pork is insanely good and tender, but also quite overwhelming on its own. I usually have it with rice, fresh vegetables, and occasionally a fried egg. Once more, my go to for the pork is the Los Vecinos Meat Market. They have the best prices by far and will slice your pork into happy single person portion sizes.


  • Pork belly, single-person portion
  • Oyster sauce, 1 tbsp
  • Chicken stock, 3/4 cup
  • Garlic, 3-4 cloves
  • Soy Sauce, 5 tbsp
  • Sugar, 2 tbsp
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Thai peppers (optional)

 1. Dump pork on foil. Cover in oyster sauce. Arrange garlic and peppers. 


2. Scrunge the foil into a parcel, covering the pork completely. Place in preheated oven at 350 F for 2 hours. 

3. Uncover pork, serve with yummy sides!
Final words: this recipe is not recommended for anyone who does not get along with tender chunks of animal fat.


Sweet Tooth Recipes: Mocha Hot Chocolate and Shortbread

Last semester, I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I had hoped to discover the best bakery with the most delicious pastries and desserts.  Realizing, after only two weeks, that Copenhagen was one of the most expensive cities in the world, I reverted to baking my own desserts.  Starting with simple recipes, I found out how easy it was to create the tastiest sweets with minimal ingredients.  So begins the sweet tooth recipe series, starting with a very British dessert: mocha hot chocolate and biscuits (or shortbread, for us Americans).

The recipe was inspired by the geniuses at Sorted Foods; four amazingly talented and hilarious Brits who share recipes through videos online at www.sortedfood.com.

Mocha Hot Chocolate

Serves 1-4

Cocoa Ingredients:

Whole Milk: 1 pint

Powdered Sugar: 1 tbsp

Cocoa Powder: 2 tbsp

Instant Coffee: 1 tbsp (note the INSTANT coffee.  The mistake has been made)

Dark Chocolate: 1 bar of 70% Dark Ghirardelli or equivalent


Shortbread Ingredients:

All-Purpose Flour: 2 cups

Confectioners’ Sugar: ¾ cup

Salt: 1 tsp

Butter: 1 cup = 2 sticks



  1. The shortbread will take longer than the hot chocolate, so start by preheating the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Throw together the flour, sugar and salt for the shortbread in a medium size bowl. Mix together.
  3. There are two ways to proceed from here, either the cleaner way or the messier way.  Cleaner: using an electric mixer, mix ingredients until dough-like and fluffy.  Messier: making sure that the butter is slightly softened and cut into pieces, use your hands to pinch together butter with dry mixture.  Kneed in hands until mixture is dough-like.
  4. Grab a pan, ideally a 10-inch pie/tart pan (an 8×8 square pan will also work).  Lightly grease pan with Pam, Canola oil, or butter, and fill with shortbread dough.
  5. Bake in oven for 40-55 minutes depending on size of pan.  The shortbread should be golden brown and firm. While shortbread is baking, continue with hot chocolate recipe.
  6. Pour milk into a pan and heat until very warm, but not boiling.  Milk can burn, be very careful.
  7. Meanwhile, mix together powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and instant coffee.  Add this mixture to the milk and stir until combined (two minutes).
  8. Remove from heat and add pieces of dark chocolate to the hot milk mixture.
  9. Pour Mocha Hot Chocolate into mugs (that are probably not part of a full set), cut shortbread into pieces, and dunk away.
  10. Put dishes in sink and wait for roommate to clean.

Umm Ali, The Middle Eastern Bread Pudding

Umm Ali being prepared by Jordanian chef and television personality, Dima Hijawi. Photo credit: Ro'ya Television

I think we can all agree that the last couple of week have been cold and disgusting. Luckily for me, John Jay compensated for this horrible weather by serving a dessert that has a very special place in my heart. Making my way through the crowds of hungry students running around in the dining hall, I reached out, grabbed a large spoon, and served myself two large scoops of banana bread pudding.

Bread pudding? That’s it? I bet you would have expected something more dramatic. But it is this dessert that, during the coldest days of the year, offers a warm, comforting feeling. You bite into a hard surface and then allow your tongue to envelope the mushy, creamy, mildly sweet pudding inside. This dessert is one of those comfort food classics that remind you of the adequately heated living room of your home. While the climate in my hometown is not as severe as it is here, bread pudding, or a version of it, was still very much a part of my childhood.

Growing up in Amman, Jordan, I ate a dessert that is, by definition, a bread pudding, but that is quite different than what is served here in the US. Our Middle Eastern version of bread pudding is called Umm Ali, literally translated, “the mother of Ali.” This celebratory dessert is eaten during the colder part of the year, but also during the festive season of Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast every day from sunrise to sunset. The greatest reward for a whole day of fasting is this creamy, light, slightly flaky dessert. Yes, flaky, not entirely mushy. You see, the difference between an Umm Ali and a western bread pudding is that our version is made with puff pastry, not regular bread. While the pastry does soak up the milk and cream, and develops a soggy consistency, it remains light and a little bit flaky. The wide array of nuts that are added to the Umm Ali also introduces a crunchy element to the dish that is usually missing in the pudding we find here in the US.

Preparing this dish is very similar to making any bread pudding. To make an Umm Ali, you will need:

1 packet of puff pastry

2 cups of whole milk

2 cups of heavy cream

1 cup of sugar

1 ½ tbsp. of cinnamon

½ cup of walnuts, chopped

½ cup of slivered almonds, toasted

½ cups of pistachios, finely chopped

½ cup of coconut flakes

¾ cup of raisins (golden or dark, whatever you like)


Bake the pastry sheets at 350°F for 25 minutes, or until puffed up and slightly colored, and then ripped into small pieces. (You could even avoid this step completely by just buying ready-baked croissants form your favorite bakery and ripping them into pieces)

Keep the oven at 350°F.

Heat the cream and milk on a stove on medium heat, stirring from time to time.

Meanwhile, mix the pastry and the nut mixture in a casserole dish. When milk/cream mixture starts simmering, add the coconut flakes and cinnamon to it. Mix, and remove the mixture when it gets to a boil.

Add the milk and cream to the casserole dish, and gently push the pastry down with your hands so it soaks up the liquid. Put the dish in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly colored on the surface.


The ingredients, as you can see, are not really on the cheap side. But Umm Ali is a celebratory dish, and it is worth saving for a special occasion. You can, like any other bread pudding, experiment with the nuts and raisins. You can use pecans instead of walnuts, or add in some hazelnuts.

I hope you enjoy this Middle Eastern version of bread pudding. Bon appetit! Or, rather, Sahtein w Afieh!

Vegging Out: (Vegan!) Spicy Coconut Curry

As you can see, this made quite a lot

The cold has come upon us. It is time for hot apple cider and tomato soup and curry. Hot, spicy, delicious curry that will warm parts of you that you didn’t even know could be warmed. As I’ve said before, I love Indian inspired food for vegetarians and vegans because there is so much variety and flavor that isn’t necessarily a part of other regional cuisines. It’s nice to be able to go to a restaurant and be able to choose something to eat instead of sticking to the plain salad.

Anyway, I came across this unopened bag of red lentils in my cabinet and was seized by the urge to cook them up as piping hot as possible. I also happen to be a huge coconut fan, and I feel like I don’t use it in a great enough proportion to the amount that I love it, so I threw some coconut milk in for a bit of extra richness and flavor. Also, I like my spicy food actually spicy, so I grabbed some serrano peppers and tossed them in as well (a word of advice: liberally rub olive or canola oil on your hands before chopping peppers, it will keep the capsaicin from absorbing into your skin and giving you the most miserable burning feeling). I’d also like to say that the smell of sautéed onion, garlic and peppers is the most heavenly and comforting scent that I know.


2 cups dry lentils

6 cups vegetable broth

1 medium onion, chopped

5 serrano peppers, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

2 tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp cumin

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets

1 container (9 oz) of frozen green beans

1 can (14 oz) coconut milk

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil



1) In a large pot, sauté your onion over medium heat in about a tablespoon of oil until translucent. Add peppers and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

2) Add the curry powder and cumin and continue cooking for about 30 more seconds (we don’t want the spices to burn).

3) Add the vegetable broth. Continue to heat on medium.

4) In another pan, quickly toast the lentils over medium heat with a tablespoon of oil. Don’t leave it on heat for more than a minute or so.

5) Add the lentils to the broth mixture, and bring to a simmer.

6) After the lentils have been cooking for about 7 minutes, add the cauliflower. 7 minutes later, add the green beans. Add the coconut milk, salt and pepper, and allow to heat through for a few minutes.

7) Serve over rice (and with a glass of milk).



Vegan Superhero Soup

The person sitting next to you in class is coughing up a lung and your suitemates are sniffling through the hall. It’s that time of year again–cold and flu season. While most people grow up with their mother’s chicken noodle soup as the cure-all for any runny nose or fever, vegetable broth was the staple in my vegetarian childhood. As Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food.”

Driven by my fear of getting sick, I whipped up this veg-tastic soup on a blustery afternoon. Full of healing herbs and super foods, it provided a much needed boost to my immune system. Quinoa replaces the noodles you may traditionally eat in chicken noodle soup, giving an added (gluten free!) punch of protein. This recipe makes 4-6 servings, depending on how big your appetite is. Try it out to combat any seasonal sickness!

4 cups organic vegetable stock
6 leaves curly kale
4 carrots
1 can white beans
1 cup quinoa
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp rosemary
pepper, to taste

1. Combine 2 cups water with 1 cup dry quinoa in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, until water is fully absorbed.
2. In the meantime, bring vegetable stock to a gentle simmer. Chop carrots and kale and add to the simmering stock. Drain and rinse the beans and add to the mixture. Add herbs.
3. Simmer for at least 15 minutes, allowing the carrots to become tender and the kale to soften. Add quinoa once it is finished and simmer for at least 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Serve hot!

This soup is simple to make but is bursting with flavor, so be sure to try it out! Your immune system will thank you.

Roasted Tomato Soup

Lately it has been soup weather. When I am frozen to the bone all I want is a big bowl of tomato soup. The thing is, I really don’t like canned soup. Campbell’s tomato smoothie in a can just doesn’t do it for me. Sadly, prime tomato season is early august to late september. We are far out of prime tomato season. This did not stop me from running to Whole Foods to buy a big bag of tomatoes. The recipe below is insanely yummy and there are a few quick tricks to make it more winter friendly.

  1. Collect amazing tomatoes in summer and do all of the steps below up until cream is added. Pour the mixture into strong plastic bags and freeze. When you want tomato soup in the dead of winter thaw it, warm it up, and add the cream.
  2. Drain whole canned tomatoes (I suggest San Marzano) of as much liquid as possible and proceed with the recipe.
I suggest serving this with a good piece of crusty bread with butter or a spread (peppadew pepper spread). 
Roasted Tomato Soup (Serves 6)
16 beefsteak tomatoes, cored and cut into 2 inch slices (or 3 cans of whole tomatoes)
4 cloves of garlic, un-peeled
1/2 cup +2 tbsp  olive oil
Coarse Kosher Salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/3-1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F and lay tomatoes and garlic in baking dish. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt.
  2. Roast tomatoes for 1 hour or until they are soft, caramelized, and the skin comes off easily.
  3. Remove from oven and let cool until you can handle them. 
  4. Peel tomatoes and transfer into pot/soup pan. Squeeze garlic from its skin, add it to the pan, and pour in any pulp or juices remaining. Place pan over medium heat and crush tomatoes against the side of the pan with the back of a metal spoon until there are only small chunks. If you like smoother soup use a immersion blender or food processor to smooth it out. 
  5. When the mixture is hot but not yet boiling slowly pour in the cream. Season to taste and serve. 
  6. Heat 1/2 cup olive oil, rosemary, and thyme in  a small saucepan over low heat until fragrant. Spoon over soup and serve immediately. 

From the President’s Kitchen: Respite from Winter

This week from his kitchen, Matt speaks of his love of all things fresh, even in the winter. A handful of fresh sea scallops never hurts of course.

As a kid, I was used to the orange tree from my grandmother’s backyard. Every winter, the tree nearly toppled from the weight of hundreds of oranges. The tree was more orange than green as the fruits outnumbered even the leaves on the tree, or so it seemed! My grandma invited us over to her house for the sole purpose of giving away bagfuls of large ripe oranges, the size of softballs. She couldn’t get rid of them fast enough, but I was happy to help. For me, there has never been anything quite like a fresh orange. It tastes of California, of childhood. It is a fruit best enjoyed fresh without any complication.

Returning from winter break, I always smuggle a couple of oranges in my carry-on back to New York. I’ve been stopped only once by an unfortunate TSA agent. “Excuse me sir. That would be considered a second carry-on.” In this instance, I had my dufflebag, a messenger bag, and a lunch bag full of oranges. I stopped him, “No! You won’t take my oranges!” I quickly redistributed my baggage, squeezing every orange into my dufflebag. I had to give one away to one lucky bystander. I gave the agent a satisfied look and walked to my gate.

However, a week after my return, my precious oranges always disappear. I am left longing for the juicy sweetness, and I know that I cannot taste it again until next year. Coming to my rescue is the timely arrival of the blood orange. I can still remember my first blood orange. Wandering around a Whole Foods on Houston, I spied a strange variety of fruit, an orange with splotchy red patches all over its peel. I picked it out for sheer curiosity, only to discover that I was able to retain that luscious California sunshine for a couple of weeks longer in defense from the New York cold. This year, it seems as if the cold has been scared away altogether.

Sea Scallops with Blood Orange Salsa

Serves 4 Continue reading From the President’s Kitchen: Respite from Winter

Forgotten Foods: Delicata Squash

Roasted Delicata Squash Rings: photograph courtesy of www.summertomato.com

As we come upon Thanksgiving (can you believe its only 3 days away?!), I’m thinking more and more about my favorite Thanksgiving dishes. The turkey is a given (dark meat please!), as are roasted sweet potatoes, green bean casserole (my guilty pleasure), and of course, stuffing (STUFFING!!!). But I have to say, my favorite side may be simple, roasted delicata squash.

The flesh of most winter squashes, like acorn and butternut, is thick and rich in consistency. And in my opinion, if squash is not prepared properly, it can be too thick and monotonous in texture, sort of resembling baby food. But as its name suggests, delicata squash is more delicate and light in texture. Its flavor is also more delicate and lends itself well to a multitude of preparations.Finally (and this is my favorite part), delicata squashes have edible skins! The firmness of the of the skin of the delicata squash is a great contrast to the smoothness of its flesh. (Not to mention, not having to peel these guys makes life SO much easier.) And additionally, vegetable skins are a super healthy source of fiber!

I have known a lot of people who say they don’t like winter squash, usually because they say it’s too mushy and thick. But to miss out on winter squash, at this time of year, would be a tragedy! No other time of year is winter squash so abundant… and they are  so hearty, filling, sweet and delicous. They are also not too expensive! So if you are one of those people who doesn’t get too excited about the typical butternut squash, try a delicata. The more subtle, light taste and texture will probably change your mind.

My favorite way to eat delicata squash is to simply cut it in half the long way, scoop out the seeds (roast these with olive oil, salt and pepper for a delicious alternative to popcorn), and roast them in the oven with some brown sugar and butter in the cavity where the seeds once were. Once they come out of the oven, I let them sit for 10 minutes to cool, allowing the butter and brown sugar to solidify and soak into the flesh. Then, I cut all the way through the squash and eat the whole bite… skin and all. To me, this is one of the ultimate tastes of this season.

However, you can also cut delicata squash the short way, creating cute little rings. After roasting these rings in the oven, you get yummy little treats that look a lot like onion rings, but are actually a lot healthier and tastier.

So here’s a recipe for roasted delicata squash rings. These guys would pair really well with a burger and a cold beer. But maybe the burger should wait until after Turkey day…

Continue reading Forgotten Foods: Delicata Squash